DOH official says President has prerogative to abolish PhilHealth

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 30 2020 01:23 PM

People crowd outside a Philhealth branch in Quezon City on August 3, 2020. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

MANILA — A Department of Health (DOH) official on Wednesday said the President of the country has the prerogative to abolish the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), an agency created by law.

But if the agency is indeed dissolved, the government will still have a mechanism to help Filipinos with health care costs, according to Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

“Ang ating pangulo ng Pilipinas ay meron namang ganyang prerogative… Kung sa tingin nya ipa-privatize o tatanggalin, ito ay kanyang magiging desisyon, base sa ebidensyang ibinigay sa kanya,” Vergeire said in a virtual briefing.

(The President of the Philippines has that prerogative. If he thinks it should be privatized or removed, that will be his decision based on the evidence presented to him.)

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday warned he will abolish the state health insurer as its officials continue to face allegations of corruption.

Duterte said that the agency's privatization would not be possible because the government did not have money.

PhilHealth was created by Republic Act 7875, also known as the National Health Insurance Act of 1995. The agency's organizational set-up, operations and services are also spelled out in Republic Act 11223, or the Universal Health Care Act approved in February 2019.

“Ngunit, kapag nangyari naman 'yan (pag-abolish ng PhilHealth), hindi naman papayag ang gobyerno na hindi natin pupunan ang kung anuman ang magiging kakulangan natin, kung mangyayari itong balak o pronouncement na ito ng ating Presidente, para hindi magkakaroon din ng financial hardship ang ating mga kababayan,” Vergeire said.

(If that happens, if the pronouncement if the President pushes through, the government will make sure that whatever gap it leaves will be filled up, so our fellow countrymen won’t face financial hardship.)

She pointed out that PhilHealth was first established to provide accessible health care services for Filipinos.

“Alam natin, maraming hindi nakaka-access sa health care services because of financial reasons,” she said.

(We know that many are unable to access health care services because of financial reasons.)

Vergeire said they will just wait for the study being done by the Office of the President regarding PhilHealth, whose officials have been accused of corruption even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the meantime, she assured the public that the government will always have a financial mechanism for the country’s health care services.

The PhilHealth is currently headed by former National Bureau of Investigation chief Dante Gierran after retired Brig. Gen. Ricardo Morales resigned from the post due to his health condition.

An inter-agency task force led by the Department of Justice recommended two weeks ago that charges be filed against Morales; PhilHealth Senior Vice President for Information Management Sector Jovita Aragona; Acting Senior Manager, Information Technology and Management Department Calixto Gabuya Jr.; Senior Vice President for Fund Management Sector Renato Limsiaco Jr.; Senior Vice President for Health Finance Policy Sector Israel Francis Pargas; and Executive Vice President, and Chief Operating Officer Arnel De Jesus, among others.

Duterte approved the recommendation.

Two weeks earlier, The Senate Committee of the Whole, which investigated the alleged anomalies in PhilHealth, recommended the filing of criminal charges against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who sits as chair of the PhilHealth board, and several former and incumbent officials of the agency.

The Senate, which only acts as an oversight body and has no power to file cases against the agency’s officials before any court, said Duque, Morales and some executive officers of PhilHealth should be charged with malversation and graft for the "improper and illegal implementation" of the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM).